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How (Not) to Monetize Your Blog Newsletter. The Practical Guide

You have your fabulous blog newsletter up and running.

It's doing a great job at attracting subscribers, and you make sure every email you send out is engaging and memorable.

Maybe your open and click rates are even good!

But now you want to monetize it.

you need to monetize your blog newsletter

Running your newsletter doesn't take less effort than running your blog, it's an additional service to your readers and you have every right to want to make money out of it.

There are plenty of ways to monetize a blog newsletter: autoresponders, ads in the email or in the web version of the issue, offers and discounts, promotions, and so on.

After all, email marketing is where you get the highest ROI according to Marketing Sherpa (2015), especially when you optimize email for mobile (Marketing Sherpa 2016).

A list is indeed far more targeted and responsive than a blog (where bounce rate plays a role in what kind of monthly results you get), so monetization just makes sense.


How to monetize your newsletter, in practice?

And how to do it without annoying your subscribers?

That's what this post is about: A guide to help you monetize your blog newsletter, with some extra advice on the ‘eek' mistakes to avoid like the plague.

How to Monetize Your Blog Newsletter

While there's a lot of theory out there, we want to get practical here! The steps you're going to read include how and why to:

  1. Have a newsletter strategy in place
  2. Create subscriber segments to differentiate sales
  3. Create email series with affiliate links
  4. Give more to hungry subscribers
  5. Sell your own products (with an appealing CTA)
  6. Ad placement: make it relevant
  7. Host advertorials that engage

1. Have a Newsletter Strategy In Place

This should be your foundation, and if you are reading this post, you are most likely already running that fabulous newsletter I mentioned in the intro paragraph. If that's the case, skip to Step #2 in this list.

But if your work is struggling to climb the ranks and you are dealing with a surge of unsubscriptions and negative feedback, this is the time to work on building a solid newsletter strategy before you try to monetize it, because monetization must go hand in hand with your overall plan.

How to do it in practice

You have to ensure that your newsletter is really valuable to your subscribers, and if it hasn't reached that level to date (e.g. you run an update-only or community digest newsletter) this is the time to fix that.

Why increase newsletter value?

  1. A valuable newsletter attracts new subscribers and retains the majority of the existing ones.
  2. You have to increase content value to appeal to advertisers who want to buy a spot in your newsletter, and they must know that your newsletter brings real benefits to readers and doesn't focus only on site updates and affiliate marketing.

If you introduce quality changes naturally and they fit nicely into your core newsletter theme, subscribers won't run away when you start monetizing your newsletter.

Also, if your subscriber base is solid, you may want to inform them you are about to start monetizing the newsletter and get their feedback on what kind of promo content they'd be more interested in seeing. You could send them a survey link that they can fill in a few minutes of their time.

Pro Tips / Real Life Examples

What matters is that you stick to your promises:

“If you say you are going to give some expert tips on something, make sure to actually talk to people in the industry that have some insider tips,” says Jason Rueger, email marketer and staff writer for Fit Small Business.

If you offer a 15% off coupon and a weekly deal, be sure to deliver on that and make being a part of your email list worthwhile. If you do that, you'll be well on your way to where you need to be.

Once you have a solid subscriber base, you can give users “a taste of what they could be getting by purchasing your product”, to say it with Michael Lan's words, Digital Consultant at Glossika: “Create interest and desire by offering solutions to a common pain point within your niche and validating the effectiveness of your service via social proof.”

People's interest is triggered when there's something for them they can't absolutely miss – that will be their push to sign up for your newsletter.

Work on increasing email open rates and decrease unsubscribe rates

Again, value is key to retaining newsletter subscribers. “Think about why they subscribed to your newsletter in the first place,” says Lan, “It was probably because they found a resource, tool, or piece of content on your site useful and they thought that by subscribing, they could continue receiving valuable content.”

If your incentive to sign up to your blog newsletter is still only updates on your new posts plus the random poll, work on that resource, tool, or blog post that you know they need, and offer it to your new (and old) subscribers.

Then, once they sign up, continue offering incentives to stay subscribed. Subscriber-only content will work pretty well, and it will work to form an emotional attachment to the newsletter, too.

Also, make it easy to refer content to a friend and keep your newsletter consent boxes and policy GDPR-friendly.

2. Create Subscriber Segments to Differentiate Sales

You want to make money from your list, right – but non-interested subscribers might never turn into buyers.

Money can only come from the right leads.

Creating segments in your list can help you reach that goal, because you will send the right material exactly to the right people, minimizing waste of time and money and optimizing open rates and conversions.

How to do it in practice

Let's say there are subscribers in your list that data says to mostly open your software review emails: You can create a segment with these addresses to send high-interest content like software promo content and software reviews, while you're going to minimize the sharing of this type of content in general emails to the entire list.

Pro Tips / Real Life Examples

Founder and CEO of clothing company Expo Apparel Eric O'Bradovich does thousands in sales each month with his newsletter using this method:

“We found that to make money from all those potential leads we could give email subscribers special deals on our clothes. This is a great way to get repeat customer buying and also a great way to get more people to sign up.”

That's also what Kim Garst did to get already interested subscribers to buy more: They managed to sell a Facebook Ads course to the people who opted-in for their other Facebook Ads material, and segmentation worked like a charm with upsells, too (12% out of 84,300 new subscribers bought an upsell, and 21% out of that 12% of buyers bought a second upsell).

Before you create new segments, make sure you ask subscribers for consent to stay in line with GDPR guidelines.

3. Create Email Series with Affiliate Links

Affiliate marketing is an easy way to make money with your list, and you can get creative in terms of ways you incorporate it into your content.

Email series are more remunerative than single emails and can involve more list segments.

How to do it in practice

The first thing to keep in mind is that subscribers don't want to passively consume your email – they want to do something, act upon the content. If your emails involve only passive reading, subscribers might never click on your affiliate links and you will never score a sale.

If your affiliate product is the logical thing to buy after reading a guide on how to do something, turn your email into an educational piece and make the affiliate link the last thing your subscribers see, after they've learned what it's going to help them with.

Another idea is to interview the author or company behind the product you are selling as an affiliate, or users that successfully used it. The more value and proof you can add, the more credibility you will build and money will follow.

Pro Tips / Real Life Examples

Shannon Mattern started her digital marketing business in 2015 with an email list of zero subscribers.

She got her first subscriber the first day she promoted her website, and she earned money from that single subscriber that very same day.

Today her list can count on 5,000 subscribers and nearly $10,000 of income a month, and her secret was creating super-valuable, actionable email series that solved her subscribers' problems, and including affiliate links.

I created an in-depth series of five one hour long WordPress tutorials called the Free 5 Day Website Challenge that show entrepreneurs how to build an entire WordPress website from start to finish – no detail left out! Within those tutorials, I teach step-by-step exactly how to use products and service that I use to run my business online.

However, keep in mind that subscribers will notice if all you seem to be doing is using the list to sell without ever giving genuinely. Mattern warns:

“Some of these products have affiliate programs where I earn commissions if people use my link to buy them. Other products I recommend don’t have affiliate programs and I earn nothing if my subscribers buy them. I don’t promote based on whether a product or service has an affiliate program, I promote them based on my expertise and whether I think they are the best product to get the job done. That builds trust with my subscribers.”

4. Give More to Hungry Subscribers

There will always be subscribers who want more content, more recommendations, more helpful advice and tools ready to download or signup for.

If your subscribers are hungry for content, it's a good idea to create a segment (“Hungry (Topic) Subscribers”?) to email when you have more advanced guides to share or sell, and products and services you are happy to recommend.

How to do it in practice

Routinely poll your subscribers to ask what they would like to see in the newsletter, what topic they want to see covered more often and if there are any other “addons” (affiliate products, recommendations, etc.) that they want to get in their inbox.

Also, monitor the trends of your open and click rates to find out which subscribers are hungrier for specific content.

If you use MailChimp, the ESP helps you in this effort with its star-based Contact Rating label on your subscribers list (your most engaged subscribers have the most stars assigned) and with segment creation wizards that include Campaign Activity by action (opens, clicks, etc.) and different time spans, up to “Any campaigns within the last 3 months”.

Pro Tips / Real Life Examples

Jason Rueger shares his tip to monetize your list by giving more to your subscribers:

“If you provide value (service, product, etc), there will almost always be a few of your customers who want more. So, make sure you have that option. If you are selling an E-book for $15. Offer the E-book and an hour of personalized advice for $100. If you know what you are trying to accomplish and are truly providing value equal to your pitch, then some people will want more help, advice, products, etc.”

5. Sell Your Own Products (With an Appealing CTA)

Like you read in advice #2, segments are at the heart of good list monetization. However, adding call-to-actions isn't the way to go only for affiliate products (#3) but even to sell your own services.

Your list can act as the intermediary to buy directly from your website. This is actually a very efficient, self-serving way to advertise your own stuff to a targeted audience! What's more targeted than the list you carefully built with your content and marketing efforts?

Warm lead generation through email can work like a charm to turn your subscribers into customers. Videofruit successfully launched two products in 2014 with only a handful of subscribers so you can do it too.

How to do it in practice

Kim Garst from the previously cited case invited her subscribers to webinars. Well, out of the 2,947 people who registered for her webinar, more than the 80% were subscribers. Amazing, huh?

That shows lists work. Whenever you have new content off-newsletter, on your website or another hosted platform, do send an invitation to your subscribers – and make it a special deal, too, just for them, if you charge for it.

Pro Tips / Real Life Examples

Shannon Mattern uses her list to sell her own courses in addition to affiliate marketing:

I offer courses that I’ve created that are the natural next step after people finish the Free 5 Day Website Challenge. I market those to my email list using an automation sequence so that they arrive in inboxes at just the right time for the subscriber.

You can follow Mattern's example and create a series of products that naturally complete each other, to always have something to give your subscribers and boost your website traffic, reputation and – of course – revenue.

The good news is that when you have been running your list a while, subscribers get to know you – and they will be excited to learn about stuff you created that they can get their physical or digital hands on.

6. Ad Placement: Make It Relevant

Banner ads and text ads inside of the email are easy and time-proven ways to monetize your newsletter.

But they have to be relevant to your content – and they must be placed in the right areas of your email message, places that won't distract the subscriber from reading the main content but that will tickle their curiosity at the same time, to “read as soon as I'm done with this”.

How to do it in practice

Experience as an email reader and an email write tells me that the best places for email ads are:

  • Top of the email (before content)
  • Middle email (between different pieces of content, somewhere in the middle of the newsletter)
  • Bottom of the email (after content)
  • Sidebars (if any)

or even

  • Single email ads

Pro Tips / Real Life Examples

One of my favorite newsletters, SmartBrief, places its ads at the top (leaderboard or rectangle), at the bottom of each section if relevant (Top Story and Creative below) and in the form of Featured Content, with the CTA a bolded link:

SmartBrief ads – Leaderboard banner
SmartBrief -Text ads
SmartBrief – Featured content ad

I know Smartbrief's ads work because they are appetible – to me, one of their target audiences.

TradePub‘s way to present single email ads is also interesting and I find it appealing every time I get one (whether I'm interested or not) since these emails do fit perfectly with the publication's overall style and tone.

Here is an example:

Attracting Advertisers

SmartBrief uses a great page to attract advertisers to its newsletter – the Advertising page below shows how SmartBrief presents its audience to prospective advertisers:

  • Percentages of Experienced, Influential and Engaged readers out of the 5.8 million people reached by the newsletter across the 14 covered industries
  • Advertising formats and ad metrics reporting

The copy is organized in a way that appeals to the busy advertiser because it's essential, concise and to the point.

7. Host Advertorials that Engage

Hosting an advertorial – also called a content email – on your newsletter is akin to welcoming a high-quality promotional guest post on a blog – if it speaks to and connects with your readers, the promotional side will be perceived as added value, not yet another advertising bomb.

How to do it in practice

Advertorials are a good idea if your newsletter is usually information packed and your subscribers expect informational content most of the time, but it might be not well received if your emails are usually short, personal and concise.

If your case is the latter, work on expanding your newsletter before opening it up to advertorials as a way to monetize it.

When you solicit advertorials in the page of your blog devoted to your newsletter, make sure you list the quality requirements for advertisers to stick to if they want to engage your subscribers with their content and turn their CTA into a lead-generation machine.

Subscriber engagement is key!



What Not to Do (Pitfalls to Avoid)

1. Overestimate the Capacity of Email

Email clients are not all the same, just as not all Internet connections are the same.

Even if your subscriber's email client will open your email in full no matter the size, their connect might not make it to send back the relative tracking code to ensure your ESP counts the email as read.

That's what happened to Clover with MailChimp and subscribers using Gmail to read emails. While readers were opening their emails, Gmail's email clipping and connection issues didn't make it to the tracking code:

Email opens are counted, at least for Mailchimp, when a tiny little invisible jpeg at the very, very bottom of the email is downloaded.

However, when your email’s too long or too packed with pictures or too bogged down with shiny things, Gmail and lots of other email providers (…) do something called clipping email. (…) When your email is clipped, your open rate suffers. (…) You scroll through your email, and you open one [email] up. You read it from start to finish. But because you don’t have Wi-Fi down there, and because you didn’t load the email before you lost service, the internet is going to assume you never read that email. (…) The problem is that 102KB is tiny. (…)

So what Clover did was deleting 75% of email content as a workaround for clipping.

The lesson learned is to not make your emails too long. If you want to go with the long form, do it for text-only emails or emails with a very low number of lightweight media (small logos or one image only).

2. Killing Off Subscribers' Interest with Too Many Ads

Sometimes you can just have too much of a good thing!

Excessive advertising in your newsletter lowers its overall value instead of adding to it, because subscribers will be getting another advertising wall in the form of email instead of the unique publication with unique, unheard-of insight that sparked their interest in the first place.

Have too much advertising (and less unique value) and you will see your unsubscription rates skyrocket.

The truth is in the middle between two opposites, so make sure to find the right balance – advertising should always add more to your email content and not replace it until it becomes something else entirely.

3. Using Non-Disclosed Affiliate Links in Emails

It's not only about the legal side of the game – if you don't disclose affiliate links in emails, your subscribers might feel cheated upon and either unsubscribe or report you to the affiliate program.

Remember that trust is based on honesty – when you act sneaky within your own emails, people who read them will not get the unbiased content they were looking for and they might no longer trust what you say.

Always disclose both affiliate links and advertising.

Concluding Thoughts

I'll say it with Shannon Mattern because it's the core message of the whole post:

Provide actionable value in every single email you send to your list. Be authentic in order to connect with subscribers. Use automation to send people the right messages at the right time in their relationship with you.

And then you will make money.

Photo of author

Article by Luana Spinetti

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